Hey Blog Readers,
This fall I started a discipleship cohort at Church of the Cross, Boston. The group is designed to help us to engage with key issues in our world through the study of both Biblical and non-Biblical texts. The 14 of us will meet monthly to discuss and debate issues such as Politics, authority of scripture, absolutism (is there only one true religion?), Sexuality and Gender, and more. Fun!
This month we are reading Amos, a book that this worship leader has very mixed feelings about.
Consider these words from Chapter 5:21-24:
I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Yikes! Considering that my job is to make religious festivals and assemblies, make noise with songs, and play music on harps (or in my case a Taylor 410ce), this warning is too close to home. The text makes clear that it is not the outward expression of our worship that God is interested in, but the posture of our hearts. God is indeed angry when we repeatedly turn away from him. We need to read these words as warnings to our churches today! In light of the sermon on the mount, where we must look at the log in our own eye before the speck of dust in our neighbors, this is not simply a message to the Israelites in the 8th century B.C., but for us as well.
The situation Amos is presented with is bleak. The world is steeped in sin. Chapters 1 and 2 point out the sins of the nations surrounding Israel and then turns to enumerate the sins of Israel herself. It is interesting to note that God is equally concerned with the sins of other nations. God seems to care about the sins of Tyre, Gaza, Edom, and others. He also cares even more about the sins of Israel, and considers it even more:
For three sins of Israel,
even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
as on the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed.
God had tried to send warnings to get the people to turn back to him, but the situation has become so dire, so far away from what God had intended for his people, that something has to be done. God’s goal is ultimately restoration.
But fortunately for us it is not a complete destruction, but separation (wheat from chaff sort of separation).
Surely the eyes of the Sovereign Lord
are on the sinful kingdom.
I will destroy it
from the face of the earth.
Yet I will not totally destroy
the descendants of Jacob,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will give the command,
and I will shake the people of Israel
among all the nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
and not a pebble will reach the ground.
Then with the remnant, God can rebuild his people. The future is bright.
In that day
“I will restore David’s fallen shelter—
I will repair its broken walls
and restore its ruins—
and will rebuild it as it used to be,
so that they may possess the remnant of Edom
and all the nations that bear my name,”
declares the Lord, who will do these things.
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman
and the planter by the one treading grapes.
New wine will drip from the mountains
and flow from all the hills,
and I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
“They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
But despite the uplifting ending, Amos presents a strong warning to our churches today. God seeks righteousness and justice. What are our sins that makes God angry? How can we make justice flow like a river?